New Fruit (II)

We are staying at the very nice DonnaCoraly country boutique hotel near Siracusa. Every morning the staff brings out a sprawling smorgasbord of fruits, pastries, custards, yogurts, and other breakfast goodies, and you can order eggs, too.

My rule of thumb in Italy and Sicily is to try pretty much everything—except, of course, tomatoes. So I happily took a nibble of the white and gray specked item shown in the photo above, even though it looked like a kind of insect larva. Of course, it wasn’t. It is the gelsi bianco—in English, the white mulberry. I remember singing about going ‘round the mulberry bush as a kid, but I’ve never seen or eaten a mulberry before. It was great!

So far, Sicily is batting 1.000 in the new fruit category.

Ortigia

Ortigia is the island town that is the most ancient part of Siracusa. Like Taormina, it is a quaint and picturesque town of narrow streets—but with some surprises. We went to visit on a sun-bleached day where the temperature may have touched 90.

Ortigia is ancient, indeed. It was first settled by Greeks circa 600 B.C., when Greek architecture was still developing. The ruins of the Temple of Apollo, which are in the center of town, are an example of an early Greek temple. The two Doric columns at right, which have amazingly survived for two thousand years, were hewn from single massive stones, which limited their height. After the Greeks in Siracusa were defeated by the Romans, the temple was repurposed by succeeding conquerors, including the Byzantines, the Muslims, and the Normans. It is a testament to the quality of Greek architecture that the columns have served for so long in so many guises and have survived the occasional earthquake, too.

The Duomo that stands in a sprawling square at the heart of Ortigia is an even better example of the practical repurposing of an ancient Greek building. It began as a temple, built later than the temple of Apollo, when advances in building techniques allowed the Greeks to erect much taller columns. You can see one of the columns exposed in an inset to the outer wall of the church in the photo above. Successive conquerors then built outer walls around the temple columns, and the Normans added their characteristic windows that make the church look like a battlement.

The facade and entrance to the church, on the other hand, are classic examples of later, baroque architecture. Visitors to the church huddled in the shadows to escape the blazing sunshine, and—for the first time on this trip—we had to mask up to enter the church. Fortunately, the church supplied a mask with each admission ticket. Once inside, the presence of the towering ancient Greek columns was clear, as seen in the photo below. And somehow, the melange of different styles and eras works as a cohesive unit. The Duomo in Ortigia in a magnificent structure.

The interior of the Duomo includes many beautiful chapels, but you need to be sure to look everywhere to capture the full range of the structure’s history—some of which is embedded in the floor. The Duomo is the burial ground for certain high-ranking church officials, including the individual buried beneath the slab with skull and crossbones shown below. Some of the chapels also include glass cases containing human bones, including what is reputed to be the arm bone of Santa Lucia.

After leaving the Duomo we emerged into the blazing sunshine and walked down to the waterfront. There is a huge, freshwater basin along the waterfront, shown in the photo below. Those are papyrus plants growing in the water next to the palm tree, which gives you a sense of the tropical nature of Sicily’s climate. The pool of cool, dark water looked very inviting. We resisted the temptation to take a plunge, however, and decided instead to have another spectacular seafood meal under umbrellas at a local pescheria.